WMU celebrates graduation of its 100th Seita Scholar

contact: Cheryl Roland
| WMU News
Photo of Olivia Williams.

Dunn, left, and Williams

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University's celebrated Seita Scholars program, designed to support young people who have aged out of the foster care system and help them succeed in college, hit a milestone Dec. 17 with the graduation of its 100th student.

When Olivia Williams crossed the Miller Auditorium stage to receive her degree, she was one of more than 1,700 students recognized during three commencement ceremonies that day. Students' names are announced as they step forward to accept the diploma they've earned from WMU President John M. Dunn. When Williams' name was read, her status as the program's 100th success story was noted and drew a round of applause from her fellow graduates and those attending the ceremony.

A Detroit native, Williams will be returning home, degree in hand and a job lined up as a ninth-grade algebra teacher at the Detroit Public Safety Academy. She earned her degree in university studies with concentrations in science, mathematics and health.

The Seita program, launched in 2008, is the nation's largest and most comprehensive collegiate program for foster care youth. It is named for Dr. John Seita, a three-time WMU alumnus and a nationally known advocate for children in the foster care system. The WMU program provides a tuition scholarship, round-the-clock campus coaches, and mentors as well as campus housing that remains available to program participants during holiday breaks and between semesters.

Coached to success

Asked to identify the key benefit to the program, Williams is quick to single out the campus coach as critical to success.

"Without the coaches, Seita students wouldn't be where they are today," Williams says. "Just having that person to talk with whenever you need to makes all the difference."

As she progressed through her degree program, Williams shared the lessons she had learned with Seita Scholars who came to WMU after her. She worked as a peer mentor to help orient incoming students in a special summer program for Seita Scholars, and she team taught a First-Year Experience seminar for Seita Scholars with Ronicka Hamilton, the program's senior campus coach. Williams also worked in the Seita office and did outreach to other campus units on behalf of the program.

Since its founding at WMU nine years ago, the Seita Scholars program has sparked creation of a Center for Fostering Success on campus that provides national leadership to inform teaching, research, learning and public service as they relate to the topic of foster care and higher education.

In addition to housing the Seita Scholars, the center is home base to Fostering Success Michigan, a statewide organization focused on increasing college-going rates and successful career transitions among Michigan’s students from foster care by building a network of support on college campuses and within local communities. The center also offers training nationally through its Fostering Success Coach Training program and has developed and been recognized for a number of best practices for supporting former foster care youth.

Learn more about the Seita Scholars program at wmich.edu/fosteringsuccess/seita.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.